Before We Move Forward, a Look Back at 2020

2020.

Whew.

Am I the only one who really struggles to even come up with words to adequately describe the challenge, the horror, and the disruption this year has presented to us? I look back at pictures and posts from this time last year and I’m almost stunned by our collective naivete. How did we not know what was coming? How could we possibly believe that 2020 was going to be OUR year – our “perfect vision” come true?

And yet, we know that when we are challenged the most, we grow. This was not a sweeping year of achievements for me – or my family. In the workplace, our goal was mostly to remain steady, remaining thankful for work when so many struggled terribly. The only certificates we received were ironic ones that I printed on our home printer. But through growth, we did achieve.

Here are the biggest things we learned (or, in several cases, relearned) this year:

  1. We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to them. For the most part, I am reasonably proud of how we handled ourselves this year. We definitely had our days of staring blankly at the wall or the TV screen or social media, in shock about how quickly our lives were derailed. That’s a natural response to trauma and there is no shame in that. But after the shock, we did a good job of analyzing the situation and agreeing as a family about what was important and how we believed we should conduct ourselves. We were (mostly) kind to each other, and that may be our greatest achievement this year.
  2. We don’t need consumeristic distractions as much as we sometimes believe we do. Before the pandemic, I often felt “busy” on the weekend. Much of this busyness was because I was swinging into stores to check for sales and new items. The pandemic highlighted some of these bad habits and helped me to correct them (again).
  3. Taking the time to assess what we are doing is essential – even if we think everything is OK on the surface. The pandemic and resulting school closures in the spring helped our family to realize that, as happy as our teenagers seemed on the surface, traditional school was not working for them as well as we thought. Both expressed a desire to accelerate their high school education and to continue learning online. This was a dramatic shift for us, and it meant saying goodbye to things like two years of high school soccer and three years of high school band. But in listening to our kids and adjusting, we are realizing that they are even happier and more “themselves” than they were before. While this does not work for everyone, it works for us – and has allowed our daughter to finish high school 1.5 years early. One of our greatest joys of 2021 will be seeing her start college.
  4. Helping those most in need is always the best way forward. Because we had more time to talk as a family and were less distracted by things like consumerism, we were able to ramp up our efforts with our family effort to support people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty. We held several canned food drives, taking carloads of food to MADCAAP, an organization in Madison County that helps provide food and other supports to people who need it. We ramped up our efforts to distribute pizza, toiletries, sleeping bags and other items to people who are homeless. Somewhere along the way, people in our neighborhood and beyond started sending us items to use in our various efforts. This has been one of our greatest joys this year, and we are committed to continuing to honor this commitment in new ways in the coming year.
  5. Focusing on what we can give instead of get in relationships sustains us. At the start of 2020, I was feeling isolated – a little emotionally hollowed out, really. Since moving back to my home state five years ago, some relationships here have admittedly disappointed me. (This is a common experience, it seems.) This year – both before and during the pandemic – I focused on being open to connecting with others, asking, “What do they need and how can I be there for them?” I stopped worrying so much about recriprocation and also focused more on making new relationships, with zero expectations attached. In doing that, I have cultivated several new friendships that have sustained me this year. I am in a very different place now and feel more connected to my home state than ever – even with the social limitations of the pandemic.

What did you learn in 2020? How did the year change you? What lessons will you take with you into the new year?

COVID-19: What I’ve Learned So Far

While experts continue to remind us that in the U.S. we are still very much in the early stages of this COVID-19 outbreak, I can say that this challenge is teaching me vital lessons.

man wearing face mask
Photo by Korhan Erdol on Pexels.com

Here are three things I have learned so far:

  1. Fretting Truly Can’t Prepare You

As much as I might fret and try to plan for challenging times, it is often impossible to anticipate the challenge that actually stops you in your tracks.

I have always been a person who feels better trying to prepare for the worst.

At any given moment, I can typically rattle off some sort of contingency plan for challenges including job loss, illness, death of a loved one, or even natural disaster. (At least those natural disasters most common in the Deep South, where I spend most of my time.)

And yet, despite spending all that time and precious energy diving deeply into frightening “what ifs,” this particular crisis was not something that I had fully considered until it was bearing down on us. That is how life goes, it seems. The things that end up sidelining us take us by surprise.

It’s Helpful to Focus on What You Do Know – at Least Right Now

My mind can click into overdrive with little to no preparation. This is apparently especially true in crisis. There have been moments in the past few days where I have analyzed the “what ifs” of this situation to the point that I mentally have myself¬† struggling to breathe, staggering penniless through the streets of New York City searching desperately for food, water and life saving medical care. (Don’t ask me how I’ve come to be on the streets of New York, panicked and alone, while also sheltering in place at my home in the Deep South. I just am. My fretting is rarely rational.)

Just like you, I do not know what tomorrow will bring. But I know that in this moment, I can breathe. I don’t have symptoms. Those closest to me don’t have symptoms. I know that I have supplies to last a few days. I know that the sun is currently shining outside my window, my dogs are getting a smidge sick of my nagging at them for barking, and my teenagers are engaged in a water ballloon throwing contest with each other on the back patio. In this moment, that can be enough.

It is Relationships – Both Close and Not So Close – that Matter Most

OK. I already knew this one – at least in theory. But I have received a powerful reminder in the midst of this outbreak. I have been surprised by some of the relationships that have brought me comfort these past two days.

I have received encouragement from my husband, my teenagers, my father-in-law, my parents, and a handful of friends that have been important to me for a decade or more. Their honesty about where they are emotionally, what they are thinking, and how they are getting through have been great comforts.

But I also have had people I am not quite as close to to reach out and say hello. There have been neighbors beyond my immediate ones (who are awesome, by the way) that I don’t communicate with as regularly. They have texted or called just to say “Hey, how are you? Are you guys at home? Do you need anything?”¬† Some new friends have checked in with me in ways that feel important and I can feel our connections growing, even with this social distancing mandate in place.

My church is still formulating plans for how we are all going to stay connected and love each other during this weird, admittedly frightening time. I have enjoyed those updates – even when they didn’t carry much in the way of actual news because there is so much we don’t know.

I have taken comfort in knowing that teachers and our new youth pastor are all working hard to figure out how to keep supporting our kids. That has made me grateful and also taken a bit of pressure off – that even in a crisis like this where we are hunkered down at home, I do not have to be all things to anyone, even my own kids.

This morning, I took some time to email or text with most of the educators I am fortunate to serve through my work. We bantered back and forth a bit about the craziness and stress of this moment. We shared movie, book and podcast recommendations. Multiple people told me that – like me – they are currently binge watching Parks and Rec and have found it oddly helpful. I offered them an idea or two about things they might want to think about next in their schools. We were of use to and service to each other. And in these moments, that feels downright sacred.

There will be more lessons, of course. And by tomorrow, odds are good that my stubborn, prone to worry self will need to relearn some of the lessons from today, too. But I hope this is helpful to someone out there.

What are YOU learning during this strange season? How are you?